Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

Have you ever noticed that the people who are the most vociferous proponents of radical social change are often the least competent in providing for the everyday needs of the people around them? By everyday needs, I’m talking about the goods and services that glue a society together, like building a house, growing food, fixing a car, or delivering babies. While they are usually well read and hip to the latest political trends, if left to themselves, most social justice activists would starve to death in a few short weeks.

I call this condition “revolutionary fecklessness” and (regretfully) consider myself to be an older member of this hapless social layer. We are the products of the middle class that grew out of the post World War Two economic boom and which has persisted until relatively recently. This economic growth enabled the expansion of post-secondary education which in turn allowed growing numbers of young radicals to leave the working class and join the ranks of corporate and government bureaucracies. In doing so they never properly developed the practical skills that society needs to function.

Now Marxists argue that unless one owns the means of production one is a worker. In that sense, educated bureaucrats are members of the working class. However, I think one can argue that there are workers and there are WORKERS. Some do the work and produce the goods and services that people need (WORKERS) and others move paper and pixels around in nonproductive endeavors (workers). The ranks of the revolutionary feckless are swollen by the latter.

Now in the process of becoming nonproductive workers we lost more than practical skills. We lost a sense of ourselves as workers and our connection to that social class. In a very real sense, we failed to develop necessary social skills.

This could explain why most radicals are incapable of talking with, much less leading the rest of the working class; so much of radical politics resembles the practices of bizarre cults whose rituals and vocabularies guarantee their irrelevance to the vast majority of working people. I’m often left with the impression that we don’t even understand each other. How, therefore, can we expect to inspire and motivate others outside of our little groups?

In one sense, none of this matters because revolutions are never caused by revolutionaries, however dedicated and fierce. Nonetheless, if you want to be taken seriously when the revolutionary shit hits the fan of history, learn to be useful. Regardless of your professional or academic choices, develop skills and attitudes that enable you to meet the concrete needs of people in your community. If you do, when the opportunity arises, your fellow workers will be more likely to listen to you. And perhaps, what you have to say will be more useful as well.

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In his new job as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Jack Layton has pledged to “fix Ottawa.” I’ve taken this to mean he will lead by example in hope of teaching the children to play nicely. I wish him luck.

The problem with our democracy goes far beyond Stephen Harper’s well documented contempt for Parliament. Fundamentally, our democracy is undemocratic. The “first-past-the-post” system of electing MPs always means that the wishes of great numbers of Canadians are unrepresented in Parliament. In a multiparty system, few MPs garner a majority of votes. But even in a 2-way race, substantial numbers of citizens find themselves unrepresented after the votes are counted.

This is not news. But it bears repeating – until we dump the FPTP system and adopt some form of proportional representation (PR) method of electing MPs – we are doomed to unrepresentative Parliaments and endless repeats of dubious strategic voting exercises.

What would a representative Parliament look like? Here’s what we have now.

Party Elected % of Seats % of Vote
Conservative 167 54.2 39.6
NDP 102 33.1 30.6
Liberal 34 11 18.9
BQ 4 1.3 6
Green 1 0.3 3.9

Source: http://www.sfu.ca/~aheard/elections/results.html. (Note, percentages to not add up to 100, probably because of some rounding in the original data. But you get the idea.)

The top two parties clearly have more MPs than their share of the popular vote would justify. It looks like this.

Now, look what happens when MPs are elected in proportion to their party’s share of the popular vote.

Party FPTP PR
Conservative 167 122
NDP 102 95
Liberal 34 59
BQ 4 19
Green 1 13

(Note: the above chart needed some rounding to make it work – but it’s close enough.) It would look like this.

As things stand now, Stephen Harper has an undeserved majority in Parliament – one he will use to impose his minority, right wing agenda on the majority of Canadians who voted for other visions of Canada. Under the current rules, he can do what he wants without reference to the other parties.

In a PR Parliament, Harper would be compelled to negotiate with some or all of the other parties in order to keep his job. Parliament would be representative and this, I believe, is a necessary first step in fixing our broken democracy.

Electoral reform must become a priority for all who call themselves democrats. In the past, both the Greens and the NDP have said they favour PR. We have to encourage them to make it their priority. At the same time, if we leave it up to any political party, we will be disappointed. It’s up to us to make it happen.

caseyIn the wake of pet food recalls and animal deaths, NDP MP Olivia Chow has called for government regulation to ensure the quality and safety of what we serve our furry companions. Well and good. Food products, whether for animals or for humans, should be nutritious and safe. So, by all means, sign her petition if you believe that the federal government is the vehicle for ensuring that safety.

But what are you feeding Fluffy and Fido today? In Olivia Chow’s YouTube video, she says we don’t know what is in pet food because it is unregulated. In that sense, she is correct. We don’t know because there is no mechanism for holding pet food manufacturers accountable. But in another sense she is wrong, wrong, wrong! There is an abundance of information on pet food and believe me, it ain’t appetizing.

If you feed your little friend commercial pet food, there is a good chance it includes the “4-Ds” — dead, dying, diseased, and disabled animals. Add to that the bacteria, mycotoxins, chemical residues, GMOs and carcinogenic acrylamides that result from the food sources and manufacturing methods of the pet food industry. Check out the Animal Protection Institute for a comprehensive article on what is in pet food. Yuck!

If you continue to feed this garbage to your pets, and you can still look them in the eye at dinner time, get psychological counselling, fast.

But if you want to do something about it today, learn how to make your own pet food. If you can boil water, you’re on the track.

The Animal Protection Institute has some good recipes, and hey — if you’ve gotten out of the habit of cooking real food for yourself, you might even want to break bread with Fido and Fluffy, ’cause these recipes are pretty appetizing by comparison with the crap that most Canadians bring home from the store for their families.